NEW YORK • When New Yorkers see something scurrying, they say something - bringing rat complaints to the city's 311 hotline to more than 24,000 so far this year.
"The rats are taking over," said New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer. "I'm a lifelong New Yorker and I've never seen it this bad... I see them on my way home, they're standing upright, they say, 'Good morning, Mr Comptroller.'"
With more than two months of grumbling to go this year, rodent-related grievances were already at 24,375 as of Wednesday, said Mayor Bill de Blasio's spokesman Natalie Grybauskas on Thursday. That is up from 20,545 last year and 19,321 in 2013.
And that's just above ground - complaints about vermin in the subway are routed to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and not logged by 311, Ms Grybauskas said.
City Health Department rodent expert Carolyn Bragdon laid the blame partly on a 311 mobile phone app in use since February last year, making it easier to rat out the pests.
"Over 90 per cent of the increase in complaints was due to the app," she said. So far this year, rat complaints consisted of 17,356 calls, 2,347 online remarks and 4,672 mobile app entries, statistics show.
The city is spending US$2.9 million (S$4 million) to expand a pilot programme to eradicate the colonies that rats set up in parks, subways and sewers, Ms Bragdon said.
She said the city has no official estimate on rat numbers. Last year, a Columbia University researcher estimated the population at two million, far smaller than traditional estimates of eight million, or one rat for every human in the city.